Ex-Yang Aide Is Running for Congress with Bitcoin and UBI on His Mind

Ex-Yang Aide Is Running for Congress with Bitcoin and UBI on His Mind

Credit: Herzog Campaign

For would-be U.S. lawmaker Jonathan Herzog, financial exclusion isn’t just a talking point, it’s lived experience.

When launching his congressional run, he said, Herzog went to Bank of America and Citibank and tried to open a campaign checking account, but was denied. Herzog saw it as an example of the ways centralized institutions can hold power over people, even someone like him who is privileged. 

That’s in part why he’s stumping for open, permissionless financial systems as part of his campaign.

“There’s acute urgency to ensure that Bitcoin and cryptocurrency have mass adoption and have a regulatory framework that enables their innovation in New York and in the United States,” Herzog said.

An alum of the Andrew Yang presidential campaign and a legal advocate, Herzog is running for Congress in NY-10, which encompasses the West Side of Manhattan and South Brooklyn. It’s a longshot, with the 25-year-old currently against incumbent Jerry Nadler, who has occupied the seat for 28 years, for the Democratic nomination. The primary is scheduled June 23. 

For a politician, Herzog appears to know quite a bit about Bitcoin, even casually dropping a reference to the cryptocurrency’s recent, once-in-four-years in an interview this week. 

Herzog spoke to CoinDesk by phone from his campaign’s de facto headquarters near Battery Park Square in lower Manhattan. Looking out his window at the rebuilt One World Trade Center (better known as the Freedom Tower), he explained why he thinks about Bitcoin through a civil rights framework and why he sees a pressing need for a universal basic income (UBI), a signature issue for Herzog’s former boss Yang. 

And despite his party alignment, he minced no words about the impact of the state’s BitLicense, written by a fellow Democrat, former Department of Financial Services superintendent , in the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

Benjamin Powers: So you were working on the Yang campaign, and now you’re running for office yourself. Tell me more about that trajectory. 

Jonathan Herzog: I’m running for congress in New York 10th District and I am a civil rights organizer and legal advocate. I’ve spent my time really invested in movements that are combating dark money and politics, combating poverty and hate and most recently joining the founding team that built Andrew Yang’s 2020 presidential campaign. I joined as the sixth hire, helped get , helped him qualify for the DNC debates, and really bring this then-unknown entrepreneur to become the internet candidate, and a top contender for the nomination. 

The urgency of the issues at the time was immense. Andrew was calling out the fact that we were going through the fourth industrial revolution and that we had automated away millions of the most common jobs. He was fighting for a set of solutions like a universal basic income, data dignity, including a data bill of rights and data property rights, and public financing of elections. I said “holy shit, we have to do all we can to make sure this guy is our next president.” And right now we’re in the midst of this global pandemic where more than 100,000 Americans have died and one in five of those are New Yorkers. More than 40 million people are unemployed and 40% of those jobs are not going to return. I’m running because we need to wake up and we need new representatives who have 21st century solutions to these 21st century crises. And we don’t have the time to delay.

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